Dusk. By motorway’s margin, Jissom seethes. Bilious eyes glare at pitiful shreds of tyre, then down at, cradled in his own soft milquetoast palm, apparatus. On this, screen signifies signal’s absence. Jissom, cursing in decibels drowned by road’s roar, now over crash barrier’s lip surveys elevation’s panoply, bounty of artifice: warehouses, caravans, nissan and quonset huts, prefabricated dwellings indifferently lit, beyond all of which in middle distance silhouettes of low hills make of vista a valley.
“This is Hell,” mutters Jissom, and then, as the rest of the line returns unbidden: “nor am I out of it.”
A seeming eternity of gale. Rain begins. Lorries pass. Jissom in his thin coat hunches.
From this, deliverance is a box on wheels which, otherwise nondescript, stops. Jissom, by now drenched, hence quite beyond the reach of scruple, seizes the passenger door, jumps in, is immediately assailed by tobacco’s stench, and that of unwashed body. The driver, dry grey hair dry yellow hands dry lined face dirty shirt, speaks first.
“Coming off next junction. That do you?”
“Anywhere,” says Jissom, “I can get a signal.”
A sardonic chuckle.
“You’ll be lucky.”
“I doubt it,” says Jissom.
“Going far?” says the driver.
“Conference,” says Jissom, “In the Vale. Design. The conference, I mean.”
The driver introduces himself. His name, mumbled, seems to be ‘Wankingstain’. His desiccated hands, gripping tight the wheel, otherwise shake.
They trundle down off the elevation. A plain unfolds. Darkness creeps across the desolation.
“Taking you to club,” says Wankingstain.
“Club?” says Jissom.
“Back under flyover,” says Wankingstain, jerking a thumb, “next exit, double back. See it from where we was before. Stupid really.”
“Not really got time for this,” says Jissom peevishly, “clubbing and that. Sposed to be going to this conference. In the Vale. The design thing. Ain’t there a garage or nothing?”
“Won’t get noone come out this late,” says Wankingstain, “even if you do get a signal.”
The sliproad. Then a roundabout. They double back, as was foretold in the chronicle. This one.
Amidst now, similarly adumbrated: the warehouses alluded to, the caravans, nissans, quonsets, prefabs. Indifferently lit, as said. Wankingstain drives them down two or three streets of this stuff, past peeling plywood, crumbling cement, mouldy brick. Then stops outside a structure exhibiting all salient appurtenances of a building. On thereof the frontage is writ ‘CLUB’.
“Club,” says Wankingstain.
“Club Club, could call it,” iterates Jissom.
Wankingstain yanks at something under the wheel. The engine coughs like a smoker, then falls silent.
Within Club. Underlit. Quantities of oxblood naugahyde. Some velveteen. All of it filthy. Booths. These are empty. Wall-mounted speakers. A floor, in which is planted a solitary pole. Fronting the arrangement, a bar. Behind this glowers a thin bald personage. Dressed in ascetic black, unaccountably familiar to Jissom.
“Jissom,” says Wankingstain, “car’s fucked on the hard shoulder.”
“Only the tyres,” says Jissom.
The thin bald man yawns. In Jissom, the penny drops.
“Jissom meets Wankingstain,” says the thin bald man unsmiling, “universe-ending paradoxes ensue.”
“Professor Goetz?” says Jissom, “read loadsa your stuff. Anthro ’n’ sociology module at uni.”
Goetz, implacably sour, reaches behind, decants fluid from optic into shot glass. He drinks this.
“Uni,” he grunts.
Jissom, embarrassed, recalls intimations of scandal. At any rate, controversy. The specifics elude him. Caught in toilet with cocaine and catamite? Perhaps, or not. Goetz, drinking again, speaks again.
“No grasp of statistical methodology. Intellectual pygmies.”
“Retired now?” hazards Jissom.
“Pursuing independent research programs,” says Goetz.
“Involving Club?” says Jissom.
“Focussing on depersonalisation,” says Goetz.
No signal forthcoming. Jissom given a room. Wankingstain takes him there. Upstairs, through more oxblood naugahyde and filthy velveteen. The room, small, is likewise caparisoned in these identical commodities. Synthetic polymers. Weird thin waterproof mattress. Oxblood, inevitably. Everything underlit, causing eye-strain.
“Where is everyone?” says Jissom, “the Club Club clubbers, I mean.”
“I think you will find,” says Wankingstain in a sudden and unanticipated access of articulacy, “that your description is somewhat wide of the mark.”
“Wide of the mark?” says Jissom, “why?”
Wankingstain starts crying.
“Need drink,” he sobs, “Oh God, I can’t stand this.”
He stumbles out of the chamber, of which the door slams shut. Residues of his cigs and sweat make it foetid in there. Thinking to circulate air, Jissom applies himself to the door handle, and is disconcerted to find rotation thereof unavailing.
Hours pass. At any rate, more than one. Jissom bethinks himself of car, conference, contracts for the design of certain vulgar necessities. Functional machines. For shiny folk. Tells himself that his confinement is inadvertent. An oversight, nothing else.
Voices in the corridor outside. Jissom, hammering on the door, shouts,
“I’m locked in, could somebody please let me out.”
The voices stop outside his room. The door opens.
“The fuck?” says Jissom.
Of hominids, a brace. Rubber from head to toe. Only eyes show. Deadened, basilisk.
“I am the red gimp,” says the red one, “this is the black gimp. Nothing else.”
Jissom, his skin crawling, edges past the creatures into the corridor.
Downstairs. Past all oxblood and filth. The bar, populated now. Goetz, behind it, scowls at all gimps. A green gimp, a yellow gimp, an orange gimp. A blue gimp, a violet gimp, an indigo gimp. A white gimp. A rainbow gimp. Jissom, his skin crawling, edges past the creatures to the bar.
“Red Stripe,” he says to Goetz.
Goetz sourly smirks.
“Sure I can’t tempt you to a banana daiquiri? They’re perfectly exquisite in this joint.”
“Just the Red Stripe,” says Jissom, “then I’ll be on my way.”
Goetz shrugs his shoulders.
“Suit yourself. Interested to see how you go about getting off the estate. Very poor communications with externality.”
Jissom, drinking his drink, surveys the scene. The black gimp and the red gimp have returned. The white gimp executes a surprisingly demure pole dance. (Under artificial light, flirting with magnolia. Beige, even. Probably the oxblood.) The other gimps applaud politely. Conversational hubbub emerges from wall-mounted speakers. Compensating for the gimps. Their silence. On account of the ball-gags. Of which prior mention omitted. They strike conversational poses. It is grotesque.
“This your research program?” says Jissom to Goetz, “all these gimps?”
“Yes,” says Goetz, “focussing on depersonalisation. What I said. Room to your liking, I trust.”
“Not really,” says Jissom, “prefer being in rooms can open from inside. Capricious of me, I know.”
“Oh, that,” says Goetz airily, “program function. Nothing else.”
“Don’t see Wankingstain,” says Jissom.
“He’s drunk,” says Goetz, “sleeping it off. The indeterminate gimp is attending to him.”
“Yes,” says Goetz, “or vague. Still deciding.”
“I want to see,” says Jissom, “where?”
“Room,” says Goetz distractedly waving a limp white paw, “upstairs.”
Upstairs. Past all filth and oxblood. Jissom looks in rooms. Overlapping combinations of filth, naugahyde, velveteen, oxblood, thin mattresses, synthetic polymers. Foetid residues of cigs and sweat.
Jissom smelling extra rank reek finds Wankingstain in a room. He props the door open with the thin mattress in there. It is oxblood naugahyde. Wankingstain’s trousers and pants pulled down. The grey gimp with him (Wankingstain) retrieves a thermometer from his (Wankingstain’s) bottom.
“I am the indeterminate gimp,” it says,
“Or vague,” says Jissom, catching on, “still deciding.”
“Yes,” says the indeterminate gimp, “nothing else. Nor black nor white.”
“Does Wankingstain have a temperature?” says Jissom.
“I was checking his blood pressure,” says the indeterminate gimp, “it is high.”
“With a thermometer?” sneers Jissom, “total munter.”
“Meanings aren’t in the head,” says the indeterminate gimp, “ask the rainbow gimp.”
Something is lying in the corner. Jissom noticing it now. Empty gimpsuit. Colour he has never seen before. Never even imagined.
“Fuck’s this?” says Jissom.
“It is the gimpsuit in the missing shade,” says the indeterminate gimp.
“The gimp in the missing shade,” says the indeterminate gimp.
“Need drink,” says Jissom.
Wankingstain groans. Scratches pock-marked ballsack.
Downstairs. Past filthy naugahyde, velveteen oxblood polymers in missing shades of synthetic mattress. All. Nothing else.
The bar. Goetz cross at his station. The lure of banana daiquiri. Jissom surrenders.
“Wankingstain still drunk,” says Goetz.
“Empty gimpsuit up there,” says Jissom venomously.
“Ah yes,” says Goetz, “for the gimp in the missing shade.”
“Well,” says Jissom, “who exactly has that gimpsuit’s kismet?”
“Who can say?” says Goetz, “uncountably infinite, those missing shades.”
Deafening klaxon. Goetz from behind bar flourishes of fire extinguishers a brace. The red gimp takes one. The black gimp takes one. They ascend stairs, of gimps the brace. Past, no doubt, oxblood and all that jizz.
Goetz smacks wall switch. Klaxon stops. Recorded hubbub resumes. Gimps strike conversational poses. No less grotesque than previously. More so, even.
The stench of burning rubber filters downstairs. Jissom is reminded of his car’s tyres. Thin mattresses. Proustian.
The indeterminate gimp appears.
“Wankingstain has disappeared,” it says.
Goetz peevishly says,
“I thought you were attending him.”
“Who am I, Master?” says the indeterminate gimp, “only the indeterminate gimp. Nothing else.”
“Pity,” says Goetz, “Had high hopes for that one.”
“He started the fire,” says the indeterminate gimp, “as a distraction.”
Jissom drinks another banana daiquiri, and a Red Stripe. Car, conference, contracts for the design of certain vulgar necessities. These recede into history. Time’s stream separates him from them. He wonders what it will be like, being inculcated into gimphood. Like nothing, presumably. Oblivion.
Goetz goes. Upstairs through naugahyde and oxblood. To break in the new gimp in the missing shade. Jissom stays. The only non-gimp downstairs. Discombobulated, he goes behind the bar. Differentiation strategy. He finds more velveteen there, and a filthy oxblood mattress. Thin naugahyde. Synthetic. Polymer.
The red gimp reappears. And the black gimp.
“The gimp in the missing shade escaped from its box,” says the red gimp.
“Master is dead,” says the black gimp, “the gimp in the missing shade killed him.”
“The box was oxblood naugahyde velveteen,” says the red gimp, “nothing else.”
The following morning. The neighbouring warehouse. A weird funeral. Jissom finds himself mysteriously elected to officiate. He delivers an encomium, lists Professor Goetz’s publications, the ones he can remember, commends his soul to the hereafter. Or at least the box. Still no sign of Wankingstain. The gimphood of the gimp in the missing shade was his kismet, thinks Jissom.
They burn the body in the box which the gimp in the missing shade escaped from. The rainbow gimp and the indeterminate gimp emit inchoate mouth noise, whereby they signify keening or dirge. Nothing else. The white gimp of a sudden approaches bier-side and flings itself upon the flames. Keening or dirge as its body burns redoubles. By this means, the white gimp while writhing is blackened and shrived. Stench of synthetic polymers. Honour is warped in the satisfaction.
They return to Club: Jissom and the remaining gimps. All drink banana daiquiris. A delicate operation, militated against by the ball-gags. Straws are used for this reason. Except Jissom. He drinks Red Stripe.
Jissom, behind the bar, finds a cable. Charges up his mobile. There is a signal.
In the months following his rescue, Jissom finds himself increasingly uncomfortable in the presence of his fellow humans. They yell incomprehensibly. They drool. Jissom feels that they are reverting to gimpery. They wear naugahyde clothing and lounge on thin oxblood mattresses in dirty velveteen boxes. Nothing else. Jissom becomes a recluse. He shuts himself away in his bungalow on the edge of the market town where he has made his home. He dedicates the near eternity to the design of a certain vulgar necessity. From the thought of the contract relating to this article he derives some solace.
Anglo-Canadian ex-academic philosopher Richard Craven writes high burlesque literary fiction,bilious Jacobean revenge tragedies, and formal verse, most of which dwells in sometimes nauseating detail on the folly and degeneracy of his adoptive Bristol, UK. His prizewinning sonnets have been published in the French Literary Review, the Sentinel Literary Quarterly, and in Zoetic Press’s Alphanumeric series. His novels include Amoeba Dick, Pretty Poli, Odour Issues, and a juvenile novel, Bile (published as Mark Brand).